In a letter to the editor on May 16, Shelly Gehshan of the Pew Charitable Trusts acknowledged that I was correct in my op-ed column published on May 8. I noted that Pew had made one of the most embarrassing errors in recent public health memory by accidentally inflating untreated tooth decay rates in the U.S. by 600 perrcent, thereby showing that New Zealand schoolchildren have the same level of untreated tooth decay as children in the U.S. This despite universal, government-funded, school-based dental care in New Zealand performed by dental therapists for almost 100 years.
Pew claims it will find a new way to spin data on New Zealand despite already disproving this model.
Even more disturbing is that the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign and its agents in Maine are claiming that in 2013 Maine has one of the worst records for children’s oral health in the nation. Yet in 2011, Pew gave Maine the grade of A for children’s dental care, and in 2012 it gave Maine an A for placing dental sealants on children’s teeth. Maine was one of only two states in the nation to get an A on both of these reports, which would suggest we were at the top of the nation, not the bottom as they now claim.
Sadly, many legislators who have been exposed to much of the confusing rhetoric from Pew now believe that a dental drill is prevention. If Pew was truly focused on improving outcomes, its focus in Maine would be in lowering overall levels of tooth decay. Since Maine has the second-lowest level of untreated tooth decay in the nation among third graders, more drilling of children’s teeth will not achieve that goal; only improved prevention will.
Note from FAN: The author is the national media spokesperson on pediatric dentistry for the American Dental Association (ADA).